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Favorite Albums of 2020

Here’s the year end list. I’m not gonna wax on about how this year was rough, we all know it was a shit year and even more so for artists. It was, however, a great year for recorded music, and I had a hard time not making this list about twice as long to show love for all the albums that lifted me this year. I’ve long been against the whole idea of numbered lists, so once again things are presented in quasi-alphabetical style (I always mess one or two up in creating this, but you get the point). I’ve included Bandcamp embeds where they exist, so if you have the means and find something new, please reach out and support the artists here. Looking forward to 2021 as another year that music makes getting through easier.

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RSTB Favorite Reissues of 2020

As always seems to be the case with any year, 2020 was a great year for digging through the past. As much as the site attempts to focus on new music, I’ll always be a sucker for some deep-dive reissues that explore corners of the past I’ve not found myself in previously. Likewise for records that never really got the vinyl shot originally making their way out into the world until it was ready to have them. These are my favorites from the year.

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Pete Nolan on No Strange – L’Universo

Seems like as long as Raven has been around there’s been a band with Pete Nolan tearing up the speakers. From GHQ and Spectre Folk to Magik Markers, among countless others Nolan’s been involved in some of the best noise-psych rippers of the past fifteen years. With the triumphant return of the Markers this year, Nolan and his band picked up right where they left off, delivering a varied record that was much needed in 2020. I asked Pete to queue up a pick for the Hidden Gems series and he delivered an unexpected treasure. Find out how No Strange came into Pete’s life and the impact that it’s had.

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RSTB Favorite Live Releases 2020

In a year when live music isn’t a viable option, quite a few have turned to embracing the bootleg for themselves. While the rise of official live releases has been working its way up at a steady clip for the past few years, especially within the Cosmic Americana realm, this year’s focus on Bandcamp Fridays coupled with a lack of direct fan interaction in the live setting has birthed a particularly notable bunch. Here’s a round up of some of my favorite live releases from 2020.

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Pearl Charles on Toni Brown – Good For You, Too

One of the records that sits atop my anticipated pile for 2021 is Magic Mirror from songwriter Pearl Charles. Her last album tested out several strains of pop, but this new one smelts a potent mix of country, folk and soul with a confidence that’s hard to shake. The record shakes off the excess of the night and wanders up canyon roads into a lush ‘70s sound that’s been long simmering under her works. As the album approaches next month, I though Pearl would be great for a pick in the Hidden Gems series and she certainly didn’t disappoint, with a deep crate-dug ‘70s record that has eluded me up to this point. Check out how the Toni Brown’s solo LP came into Charles’ life and the impact that its made on her.

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Anna McClellan on Connie Converse – How Sad, How Lovely

The upcoming LP from Omaha songwriter Anna McClellan is a bare, honest portrayal of self-doubt, self-deprecation, love, loss, and the meandering moments between. Where others would seek to sand the edges of their songs to a smooth perfection, McClellan seems to enjoy the splinters and broken edges. Organs saw against the grain of hooks, her voice quakes, and woodwinds creak in nervous sways. Those splinters draw blood, though, and the record stays with you, popping into the subconscious throughout the day. Anna’s lyrics are there with a knowing smirk. As such I figured she’d be another great candidate for a dive below the surface of the record collection for a Gems piece. Check out her take on the recently unearthed collection by Connie Converse below.

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Jen Powers on Jan Dukes de Grey – Sorcerers

Over the last couple of years Jen, along with her partner Matthew Rolin, have garnered acclaim for their live sets, issued to cassettes, culminating in an excellent album for Feeding Tube earlier in the year. The pair have also issued a limited run cassette as a trio with Jason Gerycz (Cloud Nothings) that expands into a noisier nook than they hang in on their own. With another tape just released in Trouble In Mind’s new experimental series, its shaping up to be quite a year for the duo. Jen’s hammered dulcimer adds a touch of crystalline beauty to their works and she’s long been a self-professed folk nerd on social media, giving me every reason to reach out and see what gems she has hiding in her collection. Jen’s picked a record that’s long found its way into the hands of obsessive collectors, but has been finally getting a bit of its own due this year. Find out how the debut from Jan Dukes de Grey made its way into her collection.

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Jim Jupp on Caravan – The Land of Grey and Pink

One of the more consistent labels that’s popped up around RSTB over the years has been UK house Ghost Box. The label’s approach to gorgeously layered psychedelic electronic combined with a design sense driven by the legendary Julian House makes each new entry an essential piece of a larger puzzle. The label is headed by Jim Jupp, but he’s not only the driving force behind the label, he’s also one of their stable of artists. Combining a whimsical nostalgia with deep synth atmospherics, he crops up in the guise of The Belbury Poly and The Belbury Circle. Jim’s definitely the kind of deep shelf record listener that the Hidden Gems series was made for, so I couldn’t resist asking for a pick when the latest Belbury Poly album came ‘round this year. He’s landed on a key Canterbury prog classic from Caravan — the expansive The Land of Grey and Pink. Check out how this album came into his life and the impact it’s made.

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Larry Schemel on Opal – Happy Nightmare Baby

L.A. musician Larry Schemel’s almost over qualified for the Hidden Gems column, having created a few of them himself. The guitarist has held down time in ‘90s underground faves Kill Sybil/Sybil and Midnight Movies, contributed to The Flesh Eaters repertoire and has been anchoring Death Valley Girls for the last few years. Larry certainly seems like a source of some deep shelf picks for this column so I reached out to see what he might recommend. He picked a favorite that I share as well, opting for the sole LP proper from Opal. Hear how this pre-Mazzy Star nugget came into his life and the impact it has had on him over the years.

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Dylan Sizemore on Bruce Haack – The Electric Lucifer

I’ve had the new Frankie and the Witch Fingers on the deck for a while now and it only gets better and deeper with each spin. The record is an interconnected odyssey of psychedelic excess that lifts the listener from this temporal plane and into a parallel dimension of glowing psychosis and psilocybin-induced evolution. The colors in the mind match the visual barrage of Will Sweeney’s saturated cover art and the band has never sounded hungry to cross the time-space rift than now. I snagged Witch Fingers’ driving force Dylan Sizemore to dig deep for a pick in the Hidden Gems series and he obliged with a psychedelic odyssey of his own. Check out Dylan’s take on Bruce Haack’s electronic epic The Electric Lucifer below.

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